Our first birth was traumatic in so many ways. When I blogged about it I had not come to grips with it. It was still very raw and I had not worked through what had happened in my mind or what about it left the deepest scars. I have since found recovery from that experience and blogged about it here.
I’m not going to go into the details of my recovery because I already have but I also don’t think that I can tell my birth story without the experiences that paved the way to what actually happened. So I’ll be posting this separately from my birth story.
I have always been passionate about natural birth and this has always been a life experience that I took for granted that I would experience. After my first birth I was made to feel that I never would experience it. I was told I couldn’t attempt natural birth. There was something about hearing this that affected my view of my femininity and brought on feelings of failure. There’s a prominent woman in my life who strongly advocates for survival of the fittest and now by her theory, for the greater good of society I should be dead. This hurt me. She’s the kind of person who uses her words irresponsibly and it’s foolish of me to let her words into my heart but because of her level of involvement in my life it’s difficult.
I remember seeing someone mention a VBAC group on Facebook and was instantly intrigued. I wasn’t planning on falling pregnant just yet but these women were discussing something I had been told was impossible. I knew in my heart how badly I wanted this even if I didn’t fully understand why at the time. I requested to join and felt so nervous about joining this group of woman who dared defy doctors and very set procedures in South African medical communities. At first I was just intrigued because I was sure I didn’t want another traumatic birth and I still believed that VBACs were irresponsible and dangerous.
But what amazed me was the medical facts that were being shared. The new research study after new research study that proved that a VBAC was not excessively dangerous nor was it irresponsible. In fact it was a very viable option for many women. Especially the women who’d been fear mongered into unnecessary cesarean sections the first time around. What also became apparent was that cesarean sections were not as safe and simple as women are led to believe. Nor, were the complications that can arise from this birth option, being as freely discussed as natural birth. I’m not going to use this blog post to explain why but these realizations shook me.
These discoveries gave me the power to fight for what I wanted and not just be forced into another possibly unnecessary cesarean section. I didn’t openly discuss this with many people because of the reactions I got. Most people are not willing to consider that it isn’t a dangerous option or that it need not actually be scary and traumatic. That it can be liberating, beautiful and fulfilling. People either got defensive about how necessary their cesarean was (theirs of course definitely wasn’t one of the many births in South African private healthcare that ended in an unnecessary cesarean). Or people told me how brave I was to consider having a VBAC. Why brave when the risks based on scientific research said it was not really more risky than a repeat c (note each subsequent c section becomes more risky) and honestly the media makes birth out to be more scary than it is or need be.
A kind lady who I hardly knew found out about my wish to have a VBAC lent me her hypnobirthing book. I’d heard the term hypnobirthing before but had immediately filed it in my brain as something that sounded like hippie nonsense with no medical basis. Upon reading it I began to realize that it started with the research of a doctor who was perplexed how some women were able to have pain free births. I highly recommend that anyone who is pregnant or planning on having babies look into it. This book shattered my preconceived ideas of what birth is and should look like.
The same kind lady also asked if I had a doula. I told her I desperately wanted one but wasn’t sure we had the budget for one. Also even though I knew from what I had read that a doula would increase my chances of having a VBAC, I still wasn’t completely certain what they actually did and so struggled explaining the need for one to my husband. To this she impressed upon me the importance of finding a doula and I knew then that I would make it happen.
I began researching doulas and from asking at the maternity ward and watching recommendations on Facebook I found Charlene. Everyone said she had a hands on approach, very into creating a good birthing environment and she offers an awesome antenatal class. I convinced hubby to meet with her and it was in this meeting where the extent of his trauma from our previous birth experience became evident to me for the first time. Anyway after meeting with Charlene we signed up for her services as our(please note I say our and not my – I’ll explain more later) doula as well as her antenatal classes. Charlene’s Relax into Birth classes have elements of hypnobirthing in them but are more practical and in line with what I was envisioning.
So much began to change. Through hypnobirthing and Charlene’s course I had for the first time in my life truly started understanding the effect of your thoughts on your body. The way I perceived my pregnancy symptoms changed. They were not negatives I had to just deal with as a side effect of being pregnant. They were exciting signs of how my body was changing to support my growing baby and eventually be able to birth him. As my doctor had insisted on inducing me at 37 weeks last time I got to experience many changes that my body hadn’t last time. Stretching sensations in my hips that woke me up at night for example were not a bother but extremely exciting progress towards my goal of having a VBAC. My husband was quite bemused to see me swaying my hips excitedly at 2am to really encourage baby to keep pushing down and holding that stretch. My days were suddenly joyful as opposed to worrisome. I was trusting my body instead of looking for things that were maybe wrong or not normal.
Part of Charlene’s antenatal course included these meditation type tracks to help prepare my mind for birth. I won’t lie, this was very far out of my comfort zone. My husband and I giggled our way through the tracks the first time. Within a few days hubby was struggling to relax enough to sleep and quietly asked if I wasn’t going to listen to my relaxation track that night. Ha! He’d probably deny it but even after Benjamin was born and we were struggling to sleep he suggested listening to ‘Charlene’s music’. These tracks and my worship music were such an amazing help in labor in terms of keeping my focus, staying positive and staying in enough of a trance during the contractions to not feel pain. Nothing like feeling God’s presence and trusting the body he gave you to create the perfect environment in which to welcome your baby.
Before birth Charlene met with me and we chatted through my birth plan and wishes. She did a fear release session to help me deal with my previous birth trauma and any lingering fears I had surrounding birth. I was very surprised what came out of that session!
Part of the preparation Charlene did with me was to chat through what I could expect and to empower me with the knowledge of my rights. Most importantly she kept impressing upon me the importance of finding my voice and of not being afraid to ask for or do what I needed in the moment to achieve the birth I needed or wanted. She helped me come to terms with the messiness of birth so that I would not be hindered by feeling ashamed or upset by this. I remember feeding mortified during my last birth because they had broken my waters and it was such a messy affair that I spent most of that birth mortified and embarrassed. This session helped so much.
I did try raspberry leaf tea but don’t honestly know if it was much help. Who knows?
My doctor. Well, now this was a journey and a half. After all the trauma of my last birth and pregnancy I was terrified of switching doctors. I knew she would not support my wishes to attempt a VBAC. She is known for being quick to push for a c section. But I liked her personality and felt so scared and reliant on her. I knew I had to at least just talk to another doctor. Now my husband is an auditor so he insisted that I not double up appointments so I had to cancel one check up with my current doctor and go to the other not to incur extra cost. So when I called to cancel my one check up and the secretary insisted on knowing why, she all but fired me for getting a second opinion. In that moment I knew even if I didn’t like this new doctor I couldn’t go back to my previous one.
After much research I managed to find what seemed to be the most natural and VBAC friendly gyne in Cape Town. I’ll never look back. He was endlessly patient with me as I tried to make sense of my previous birth and agonized over every detail. He let me discuss my upcoming birth in great detail and answered all my questions with great care to make sure I understood everything. What forever stood out to me was his immense respect for my right to choose and know my opinions and their risks. He by no means sugar coated anything but he was deeply respectful, matter of fact but never fear mongering. For the first time I felt I could trust a doctor to really help me and advise me in a way that deeply respects my wishes while still looking out for my baby and my wellbeing. I knew that if he advised me to have a cesarean section I could make peace with that decision and he would really have given me a fair shot at my VBAC. I should add that I balled my eyes out after most of my appointments with him because as he helped me understand my previous birth and plan my upcoming birth I was finally able to come to terms with what had happened and start healing.
This is the story of my journey that led to my VBAC. The VBAC my gynae who I trusted deeply had told me was impossible. And yet she couldn’t have been more wrong. I got my VBAC. My beautiful 4.38kg baby boy was my VBAC baby and what a beautiful life changing moment that was. To all the people who supported me on this journey I can not thank you enough.
Have you had or considered a VBAC? What was your journey to get the birth you wanted? I would love to hear your story! Please share in the comments below.